Plant a Butterfly Garden


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An orange and black butterfly sitting on a verbena flower.

Everyone loves butterflies. They they have such a magical ethereal quality about them.

Attracting more butterflies to your garden will make your garden more attractive, whilst helping the environment and your local biodiversity. It brings plants and flowers back into populated urban areas along with some of natures most beautiful creatures.

An orange and black butterfly sitting on a verbena flower.
Verbena flowers will attract butterflies.

Attracting butterflies into your garden is not difficult. Butterflies have highly sensitive smell and can smell their favorite plants from many miles away.

They will feed off nectar, lay eggs and remain nearby as long as there is enough food and the right type of habitat for them.

Butterfly garden design

The basic design elements of a butterfly garden are:

  • a sunny location
  • shelter from high winds
  • nectar-rich flowers
  • host plants where they can lay eggs
  • wet sand or mud for ‘puddling’ (drinking water and extracting minerals from muddy puddles)
  • flat rocks or other light colored flat surfaces for basking
  • a pesticide spray-free garden

What to plant

To successfully attract butterflies and keep them visiting, you need to plant a variety of both host and nectar plants.

Some plants will serve both purposes. By incorporating a variety of plants, including trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials, at different heights and bloom times many species of butterflies will visit throughout the year.

You will also have an attractive, colorful, and interesting garden for your own enjoyment.

Some of the plants that will attract and support many different species butterflies are:

  • Bee balm (Monarda)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Butterfly Bush/ Buddleia
  • Echinacea
  • Goldenrod (Solidage)
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum)
  • Lantana (Virburnum)
  • Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
  • Marigold
  • Mexican sunflower (Tithonia)
  • Phlox
  • Sweet William (Dianthus)
  • Sedum
  • Verbena
  • White Alyssum
  • Zinnia

Some butterflies have quite specific requirements of the host plant, which they use to lay their eggs on and the caterpillars use as their main food source:

  • The Monarch butterfly requires the leaves of the swan plant to live
  • Red and Yellow Admiral caterpillars breed on nettles
  • Ragwort will attract magpie moths and their woolly black caterpillars

These plants may not be the most attractive garden plants but you could use a corner of the garden out of sight for these plants.